The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is on a warpath in 2020. Having already tussled with Twitch earlier this year, then presumably again last week, the RIAA turned its attention to GitHub at the weekend.

But this time it wasn’t for music being streamed without a license, but rather a piece of software that allows folks to download YouTube videos.

The software is called youtube-dl and it, along with 17 other clones have been removed from GitHub.

The RIAA argued that the software is being used to download some of its members content illegally.

“Indeed, the comments in the youtube-dl source code make clear that the source code was designed and is marketed for the purpose of circumventing YouTube’s technological measures to enable unauthorized access to our member’s copyrighted works, and to make unauthorized copies and distributions thereof: they identify our member’s works, they note that the works are VEVO videos (virtually all of which are owned by our member companies), they acknowledge the those works are licensed to YouTube under the YouTube standard license, and they use those examples in the source code to describe how to obtain unauthorized access to copies of our members’ works,” wrote the RIAA in its takedown request.

Heading to the youtube-dl repository now will reveal a statement that it was taken down due to a “DMCA takedown”, though the RIAA never cited the DMCA in its letter choosing instead to state the software was outright illegal.

The association made mention of youtube-dl being designed with the intention of circumventing “technological protection measures used by authorised streaming services such as YouTube”, but we disagree.

While youtube-dl may have been used for nefarious purposes the software may have helped many people including legitimate news organisations.

Consider a newsroom compiling a report for TV and needing to gather clips from the internet. There, a piece of code like youtube-dl can prove invaluable. Internet archivists can also make use of it to record content before it gets unceremoniously deleted (we’re looking at you episode of Hot Ones with Paul Rudd).

But more than that, are the RIAA going to go after every piece of software that could possibly be used to download music illegally?

Unfortunately, the source code for youtube-dl explicitly mentioned downloading music from RIAA members so in this case, youtube-dl is seemingly in the wrong.

It’s a pity though as the software was incredibly useful.

Whether the creators of youtube-dl will fight this further is unclear as of time of writing.

[Image – CC BY SA 2.0 Christiaan Colen]